Thursday, July 07, 2005

 

Conyers asks White to clarify fed's investigation of the Noes

We must apologize in advance and warn readers that we are going to ramble for a bit about some issue related to the federal investigation going on in Toledo surround the Tom and Bernadette Noe's campaign contributions.

We should note that the Blade reported yesterday that U.S. Rep. John Conyers had written a letter to U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, Gregory White, with some pointed questions about the timeline of his investigation.

The context for this is that for several weeks there has been some grumbling about whether White, sat on (both in terms of actually investigating and making information public) the investigation of Tom Noe's alleged campaign contribution laundering last fall.

In rough terms, the implication to this line of thinking is that White made a political decision to keep the investigation under wraps given its explosive potential and given the closeness of the Bush/Kerry vote in Ohio.

The problem with this speculation is that, so far, it's all been based on some hazy circumstantial evidence. We do know that Lucas Co. prosecutor, Julia Bates, began looking into the allegations in March 2004. By October 12, 2004, Bates had turned up enough information that she felt compelled to contact White's office.

But the public didn't hear of this investigation until April 27 when, in the midst of the Coingate revelations, White admitted that Noe was under investigation for federal campaign contribution violations. At the time, White was reported to have said that his office had been working on the investigation "for several months."

Bates made some comments that initially diffused the matter.
Ms. Bates, who supported U.S. Sen. John Kerry for president, told The Blade in June that it would have been difficult to complete an investigation as complex and sensitive as the Noe case in less than three weeks.

“If this dropped in my lap on Oct. 13, I’m not sure if I would have time to do much before the election,” she said.
But that never struck us as much more than one of those professional courtesy comments one prosecutor might make about another. The giveaway to us is that Bates knows full well the issue isn't whether White could have completed the investigation. We agree with Conyer that the issue is when White considered the Noes to be subjects of an investigation and when he actually launched an investigation.

Now, anyone who has been following Lawrence O'Donnell's writings about Karl Rove's role in outing Valerie Plame know that federal prosecutors can indicate if an individual is either a witness in an investigation, the subject of an investigation or a target of an investigation.

Since O'Donnell provides it, we won't explain the differences among each designation. But suffice it to say that the White would have clearly been able to describe the Noes as at least being witnesses. In theory, making such an announcement before Nov. 4 may not have been much of a stretch since Bates' office did a lot of the spade-work on the case, having spent from March to October doing it's own investigation.

The point is that he should have been able to quickly get his office to verify Bates's work and start conducting their own interviews. Separately, one might be able to argue that While could have also revealed that the Noes were subjects of the investigation. On the other hand, we think it's reasonable that a federal prosecutor might not want to make any comment until he had most of the loose ends of an investigation wrapped up.

Speaking of loose ends, one that's been nagging us is this: exactly who was the subject of Bates' and White's investigation? We keep going back to a statement Tom Noe's attorney, Jon Richardson, made to the Blade back on April 27:
During its investigation into Ms. Noe’s allegations, the prosecutor’s office developed other information and forwarded it to the U.S. attorney’s office, Ms. Bates said.

Mr. Richardson said federal agents have spoken to Ms. Noe but not Mr. Noe.
Ms. Noe but not Mr. Noe? Hmmm . . . How would Richardson know that? He's not Bernadette's attorney. Further, his comment could mean a lot of things but our guess is that Richardson was hinting that White was using Bernadette as a witness against Tom. This goes back to the point we were trying to make above: It would be nice if some eager reporter would simply ask White is Bernadette is a witness, subject or target of his investigation. Likewise, they should ask White the same thing about all of those who have been brought before the grand jury (especially Brett Buerck and wife Scottie May, the latter having testified yesterday).

But we digress.

As we mentioned above, we can imagine that there may be rational reasons why White failed to disclose the existence of his investigation last fall and even the first few months of this year. But, if such a reason existed, what had changed by April 27th that suddenly allowed White to confirm the investigation?

The press corps, unfortunately, failed to ask about this. They also left White plenty of wiggle room with his vague comments about the investigation, such as the "for several months," descriptor mentioned above. We can't think of one even-slightly credible reason why White would not be willing to disclose specific dates of when the investigation jumped off.

Apparently now, someone either on Conyers' staff has noticed this and other vagaries, or someone close to the investigation has contacted Conyers. Again, it should be noted that White may be totally innocent and totally professional in his handling of the case. But the public will never know unless someone takes the issue seriously, and Conyers seems to be doing just that.

Conyers, it should be noted, although he is from Michigan, has a legitimate angle on this whole matter since he sits on the House Judiciary Committee.

We haven't seen the letter, but from the Blade's story makes it appear that Conyers is particularly concerned about when White's office actively began it's investigation, and whether White purposely dragged his feet after Bate's turned the case over to him.

According to the Blade, Conyers apparently interprets the "for several months" comment to mean "two months" suggesting that White didn't start his investigation until March 2005, a five-month delay. We wonder if Conyers has something more up his sleeve, however, because it's not unreasonable for White to equate "several months" with "many months." Indeed, if White waited until March to follow up on Bates' work, he has a lot of heavy explaining to do.

Regardless, no one can afford to be naive in these waters. White was a political appointee who probably wouldn't have gotten his job without the support of operatives likes GOP chair Bob Bennett. White may be clean on this matter, but the public and Conyers deserve to know the answer to the questions about what White knew about the Noes and when did he know it.

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